Students head back to school in New York City

September 8, 2011 2:25:42 PM PDT
The heavy rain didn't stop more than 1 million children from returning to school for the first day of classes in New York City Thursday.

"School is fun, and I think school is very interesting to me," one young girl said.

While some students just couldn't wait to put on their backpacks and head to school, a majority of parents are already exasperated with the quality of the city's public schools.

A New York Times poll found only 34 percent approved of how Mayor Michael Bloomberg has handled education. The mayor took control of the school system nine years ago.

Bloomberg and schools chancellor Dennis Wolcott greeted students at the Spruce Street School Thursday morning. Asked about the poll, Bloomberg said whatever the poll shows, every year more and more students show up to attend New York City schools.

"We used to one or two elite schools," he said. "Polls don't matter, it's what people do."

People who responded to the poll indicated dissatisfaction with class size, as well as both the number and quality of teachers. In follow up interviews, respondents also described frustration over services for disabled children and the emphasis on standardized tests.

Many believe the mayor's biggest mistake was hiring publishing executive Cathleen Black as schools chancellor. Black had no background in education.

She was let go three months after her appointment, but analysts say the mayor's initial decision to hire her continues to make an impact on public opinion.

Walcott, the longtime deputy mayor, took over as chancellor. According to the poll, however, Walcott has failed to make a mark, with 53 percent of those polled having no opinion of his performance.

Mayoral spokeswoman Julie Wood played down the poll results. She said graduation rates are at an all-time high and the city was outpacing the rest of the state on test scores.

Something else new is also happening this year - a new program and guidelines for what students will learn in every grade. It's a national standards program called The Common Core Standards. Wolcott characterized it as a richer deeper investment in learning.

"Making sure that we concentrate on our subject areas in a more detailed fashion, instead of hopping around from topic to topic, read more nonfiction, critical analysis aspire to that particular level," he said.